Italy seeks G7 message to de-escalate Mideast tensions as foreign ministers meet in Capri


ROME (AP) — Group of Seven foreign ministers are meeting on the Italian resort island of Capri, with soaring tensions in the Mideast and Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine topping the agenda.

Under Italy’s rotating stewardship, the G7 leaders are expected to issue a united call for Israel to exercise restraint after Iran’s unprecedented weekend attack involving hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles fired toward the Jewish state.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz, on Tuesday and urged Israel to not only de-escalate any reaction to Iran’s attack but to stave off a planned offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

“I reiterated this message and I believe that on the occasion of the G7 foreign ministers in Capri, tomorrow and Friday morning, a similar message will be sent,” Tajani told state-run RAI.

With Israel’s war in Gaza in its sixth month, Tehran’s attack added a new element of urgency to the three-day meeting, with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock making a last-minute visit to Israel before arriving on Capri on Wednesday evening.

“We will discuss how a further escalation with more and more violence can be prevented,” she said.

“Because what matters now is to put a stop to Iran without encouraging further escalation,” Baerbock said, in calling for new sanctions against Tehran.

Germany, a staunch ally of Israel, has been among the chorus of European and U.S. leaders urging Israel to de-escalate tensions and not retaliate for Tehran’s attack, which was largely repelled thanks to U.S. and allied help.

Russia’s two-year war in Ukraine is also topping the agenda, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba an invited guest to the Capri meeting on Thursday. He is expected to repeat his country’s need for essential military support, including artillery, ammunition, and air defense systems to bolster its capacity amid Russian pushes along the front line.

The United States and several European countries are discussing proposals to use the profits generated from billions of euros of frozen Russian assets to help provide weapons and other funds for Ukraine, proposals that have gained steam as Ukraine runs dangerously low on munitions, and U.S. efforts to get new funds for weapons have stalled in Congress.

At the European Union level, EU leaders are to discuss the proposal at a summit Wednesday in Brussels. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, meanwhile, is expected in Capri.

The 27-nation EU is holding around 200 billion euros ($217 billion) in Russian central bank assets, most of it frozen in Belgium, in retaliation for Moscow’s war against Ukraine. The bloc estimates that the interest on that money could provide around 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) each year.

The Biden administration is also looking into the possibility of tapping into Russian assets. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday she will meet with G7 finance ministers to discuss, among other things, Russian sovereign assets.

“We’re looking at a series of possibilities ranging from actually seizing the assets to using them as collateral,” she told reporters in Washington.

She said Ukraine needs more help and said she fears that Russia is beginning to see signs that the U.S. and its allies are “”tiring and finding it more difficult to find ways to support Ukraine.”

“That makes us focused on finding a way to unlock economic value and a stream of resources from the Russian sovereign assets” that have been immobilized, she said.

The European Central Bank, or ECB, has warned in the past against seizing Russian assets themselves as this could undermine confidence in the euro currency and EU markets. But Borrell has said that under the EU plan, no assets would be taken, only the windfall profits they make.

On the Mideast front, tensions have ramped up since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to local health officials.

World leaders have urged Israel not to retaliate after Iran launched a revenge mission that pushed the Middle East closer to a regionwide war. The attack happened less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building.

The Iranian attack prompted an emergency videoconference Sunday of G7 leaders who strongly condemned Iran’s “direct and unparalleled attack against Israel,” and reaffirmed their commitment to Israel’s security.

At the same time, the G7 leaders vowed in a joint statement to work to prevent a further escalation of tensions in the region, while also reaffirming the need for an “immediate and sustainable cease-fire” and release of hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7.


Fatima Hussein in Washington and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed.

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